“You can’t escape politics. Everything is political.”
Kudzanai Chiurai (born 1981 in Zimbabwe) is one of the international shooting stars from Africa. Right at the beginning of his oeuvre he earned international recognition for openly criticizing Robert Mugabe and being expelled from the country as a result. Since then he lives in exile in South Africa and is the first black African to earn a degree from the university of Pretoria. Chiurai works with different media like photography, sculpture or video. In the eyes of many he is way more than an artist but a poet, activist and one of the driving forces of the African democracy movement.
His photo-series “The Black President” from 2009, which shows a fictitious black president and his cabinet posing as hip-hop stars in front of a golden background together with attributes that make a ridiculous impression, became especially well known. His most recent series “The State of Nation” raises the topic of the historical origin of African states and again gains worldwide recognition.
Chiurai’s works are exhibited internationally in numerous single and group exhibitions such as: “Africa Now”, Round Tower, Copenhagen, Denmark, Northern Norway Art Centre, Lofoten, Norway and Tampere Art Museum, Finland (2008); “Figures & Fictions: Contemporary South African Photography”, Victoria and Albert Museum, London (2011); “Impressions from South Africa, 1965 to Now”, Museum of Modern Art, New York (2011); dOCUMENTA13, Kassel, Germany (2012).
The series “State of the Nation” comprises twelve photographs, which exemplary present the turmoil and frequently brutal events leading up to emergence of African states. According to the artist, “On a continent that has experienced more violent conflict than any other, this series follows an individual’s narration of events that lead up to the inaugural speech by the first supposedly democratically elected prime minister”.
The spectator is not only enthralled by the allusion of child soldiers, freedom fighters, corruption or the results of civil wars. Furthermore, the rigorous photographic composition orientated at classic examples as well as the delicately nuanced shades dominated by rather dark and muted tones manage to fascinate as well.
“Revelation VII” presents an ”African” Communion in which the new president is seated in the centre as a quasi Messiah: a young woman as the new head of state, dressed in a suit with rather masculine appeal. This image is rather uncommon in many ways. For Chiurai the question that arises concerns the contributions every generation makes to shape society, “There is always a defining moment for each generation, where things change forever. There was the Marcus Garvey generation, the Patrice Lumumba generation, the Martin Luther King Jr generation. The kind of message that a new June 16 generation would send is one of honesty. We cannot continue to lie to each other or keep pretending; we are not honest.”
Despite the obvious criticism and frustration presented in his works the artist himself is full of optimism, “When you make one small change, it causes a shift around you and it feeds into others. We are not outside the system, we are part of it. Any change you make has a knock-on effect; you can’t look at it in isolation.”